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Living the "Sue Life"

“There is a winner and a loser, and occasionally we lose. (hold for a signature Sue dramatic pause) But then we rise again.” On the National Geographic Channel, Sue Aikens from the Alaskan Wilderness Reality TV show ‘Life Below Zero,’ gives us her wisdom about life. I watch partly because I feel that as an introvert, Sue and the others on the show are ‘living the dream.’ At the same time, I wonder if a life with such isolation can be rewarding, fulfilling, or productive to the human race.

Looking back on this year, I have my answer to both.

In January 2020, we left our home, family, and friends in Texas for 20 years and moved to Arkansas. From January until March, we lived in a town 50 miles away from where we now live. Already feeling isolated and missing my friends and family, we finally moved into our new home. I looked forward to meeting new people and getting involved in my church and the community. One week later, the world shut down.

“I can do this,” I thought. Life Below Zero became my inspiration. I can live the Sue life. Every introvert went into the quarantine thinking, ‘This is what I have been training for.’ Finally, introverts have their day. Like every other introvert, I would be a beacon of light for all the extroverts in our lives.

I made my pandemic goals. I was going to write another book, start a Podcast, and plan out sewing projects, intending to use up all the fabric I already had.

(Who was I kidding? I could never use up ALL my fabric) I started with energy, optimism, and hope. I mean, two weeks. Who can’t do two weeks? What? Two more weeks? Another month? Until summer? No end in sight. It became too much.

I realized that I could not live the Sue life. Like many of our ‘dreams’ of escape, reality did not meet expectations, and the question of how to live in a rewarding and fulfilling way became a challenge.

I have been getting a lot done. I am writing that book. I started a podcast. And I have made to date four quilts, a stuffed Llama, and a table runner. (I still have plenty of fabric ready for the next pandemic-whew!) I was productive but not fulfilled.

I had no local friends, and I was lonely. It reminded me of the truth: people need people. We all need each other. Total isolation is not good for anyone.

With my dream dashed, I, like everyone else, had two choices. You can rise to the occasion or go back to bed and stream all the TV shows you used to watch when you were a kid, catch up on all the hallmark movies, and constantly ask Google when your favorite current shows would return. I will admit I did both.

I found that no matter what I accomplished, I needed people. Rich and I started using our Zoom account with renewed energy. My writers’ critique groups, video chats, and texts from friends became what I lived for. But was that enough? We need connection, but we also need hope, light, and service. It is not enough to have people in our lives. We need to serve the people in our lives. Living the Sue life causes us to look inward and concentrate on the struggle, making our world smaller and smaller.

I had a friend who, riddled with health problems, lamented that she could no longer serve. “What use am I?” she asked. I have two things to say about that:

  1. It’s the smallest things that make the difference.

Think about the things people have done for you that mean the most. When we first moved in before the shutdown- someone from our church brought over dinner. She checks up on me from time to time. I seriously smile for hours after she sends me a text. Knowing that I am remembered means the world. You don’t have to be in perfect health. Even sitting in your house during a quarantine allows you to serve others.

2. It’s not what you get; it’s what you give.

Everyone needs things, and you might think, “I am drowning. I have nothing to give.” Trust me. I get that. But I believe that if everyone gave, everyone would get. No one can sweep in and fix anyone’s life-it’s not possible. But we can ease someone’s challenges and bring light to others when they can only see darkness.

We can serve in imperfect, small, personal ways: a letter, a phone call, a text. Leave something on the door or pick up someone’s curbside order. These small but personal ways help us find the light each day when we share our light with others.

Covid has taught me that isolation isn’t sustainable. In trying to find peace and comfort through this troublesome time, I’ve learned that the times I’ve felt the most fulfilled are when I step outside myself and reach toward others. I still enjoy watching Sue and the others on Life Below Zero, but the pull into isolation is no longer there. Regardless of my creative pursuits, the acts of service given to me and my opportunities to reach out to others have sent me light, brought me joy, and sustained me through all the ups and downs of 2020.


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